It means the established beliefs, social norms, values, material traits, and behavior patterns transmitted from people to people that differentiate groups of people.
Cultural backdrop affects how individuals communicate and how they deduce messages received from others.
Being aware that miscommunication can arise due to ethnicity, age, gender, race and physical disability, and much other dissimilarity such as religious and lifestyle is the first step towards better multicultural communication. Larger cultural multiplicity in the organizations and workplaces increase the need for understanding how cultural background affects communication.
Communication Barriers in Multicultural Communication
Communication barriers most of the time hamper the quality of communication when you are interacting with people from cultures other than your own. These barriers include:-
1. Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism
2. Lack of Knowledge and Understanding of Cultures
3. Discriminatory and Harassment
4. Language Differences
Now let’s study these barriers in detail.
Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism
Cultural relativism compares the norms and conducts of different cultures and usually means evaluating them against standards of what’s wrong and what’s right. This approach to other cultures becomes an obstacle when you presume that cultural norms, customs and conducts are not right if they differ from those of your culture.
Ethnocentrism is the natural idea that your own cultural tradition and values are right and superior. People around the world are ethnocentric to an extent. Norms, customs, and conducts that are different from those of your culture may seem unusual, abnormal and sometimes even wrong.
Lack of Knowledge and Understanding of Cultures
Although a particular culture may usually demonstrate similar behaviors or attributes, this does not mean all individuals in that culture are similar. People establish stereotypes when they presume that certain norms, values or attributes typical of a particular culture define all members of that culture group. Stereotypes are an outcome due to limited knowledge of cultural diversity.
An understanding of various cultures means to be fully aware that individuals within each culture may have some resemblance and some variations. It means responding to people as individuals while understanding that cultural backdrops and experiences impact behavior and communication.
Discriminatory and Harassment
Discrimination is demonstrating partiality toward or hurtful elimination or rejection of people because of cultural or any other differences. Business communication between the sexes demands a clear understanding of remarks and actions that could be interpreed as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is undesirable behavior of a sexual nature or with sexual implications. It may occur for men as well as women.
Language can also be a barrier to communication. An increase in multicultural interactions presents language challenges. When organizations communicate with the large number of people who speak the languages other than English – misunderstandings may occur. Non verbal language influences the receiver’s understanding and acceptance of a spoken message. In multicultural business communication, non verbal signs vary as much as spoken languages do. Nonverbal greetings can be anything from a bow to a handshake or from a hug to an upward flick of the eyebrows. Misunderstanding or misinterpretation of cultural differences in nonverbal messages causes communication problems.
Communicating in High or Low Context Cultures
Traditionally, high-context countries place high value on relationships and prefer indirect communication when carrying out business. Low context countries give more value to productivity; prefer the use of direct communication, and give minimal attention is paid to building relationships. High context cultures allocate more meaning to shared history, non- verbal signals, and the context of the messages than to what is said.
Japan, China, and most other Asian countries generally are considered high context cultures.
The United States and Canada, as well as northern Europe, are low context cultures.
Given below are the basic differences between high and low context cultures.
Direct and specific communication
Fewer words, more nonverbal clues
High value on words rather than nonverbal clues.
Simple and ambiguous messages
Structured messages with technical details.
Very verbal people seen as unattractive; smiling associated with nervousness.
Informal, frequent smiles, and frequent use of hand gestures and facial expressions
Preference to long term relationships and underlying messages.
Temporary personal relationships.
Long term view of time.
Short term view of time.
Appointments are generally considered flexible.
Emphasis on appointments on time, management of schedules, and punctuality are given high preference.
Vague and non confrontational language is preferred.
Focus on getting a job done, being specific, and goal attainment.
Honor and respect more important than business; adjourn power and position
Personal relationships not considered that much; ideas and people are assumed as equals.
Private networks are used to obtain information.
Information is made accessible readily, shared with others.
Values family and group authority
Multicultural communication guidelines
You can become an effective multicultural communicator if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Understanding our own culture
Communication with others can be improved by increasing awareness of your own culture and its influences on your beliefs, values, and behavior patterns. We have to understand that our cultural background and experiences shape what we think, what we value, and how we communicate.
Keep an open mind and respect diversity
Learn about other cultures, beliefs, and customs without judging them by our own cultural identity and unexamined biases. These is not to suggest that we change our beliefs or disrespect our own culture, but rather that we acknowledge that cultural norms affect values and conducts and that understanding how others interpret verbal and nonverbal language helps our communication receive the intended response. However, avoid accepting stereotypes that assume that characteristics that may apply to some people in a particular culture are characteristic of all individuals in that culture.
Identify and adapt to language differences
When we are communicating with persons from another culture, we should try to learn how that culture’s verbal and nonverbal languages differ from your own. Examine and understand the meaning of nonverbal communication signal such as facial expressions, social distance for conversing, and hand gestures. Offensive non verbal gestures should always be avoided.
Now that we have adequate knowledge about cross cultural communication, barriers in cross cultural communication and guidelines to be followed for better cross cultural communication, we can now discuss the aspects of the Japanese culture one would wish to observe and understand in order to avoid problems of cross-cultural communication.
Japanese Non-Verbal Communication
1. The Japanese pull out all the stops for peace and are dependent on group; they use non verbal gestures such as facial expression, tone of voice and posture to tell interpret what someone feels.
2. The Japanese frequently trust non-verbal messages more than the spoken word as a single word can mean various things.
3. Frowning when someone is speaking is taken as a sign of disagreement.
4. Most Japanese maintain an impassive expression when speaking.
5. Expressions to watch out for include inhaling through clenched teeth, tilting the head, scratching the back of the head, and scratching the eyebrow.
6. Non-verbal communication is so vital that there is a book for foreigners on how to interpret the signs.
7. It is considered disrespectful to stare into another person’s eyes, particularly those of a person who is senior to you because of age or status.
8. In crowded situations the Japanese avoid eye contact to give themselves privacy.
Relationships & Communication
1. The Japanese prefer to do business on the basis of personal relationships.
2. In general, being introduced or recommended by someone who already has a good relationship with the company is extremely helpful as it allows the Japanese to know how to place you in a hierarchy relative to themselves.
3. Build and maintain relationships with greetings / seasonal cards.
4. It is important to be a good correspondent as the Japanese hold this in high esteem.
Business Meeting Etiquette
1. Appointments are required and, whenever possible, should be made several weeks in advance.
2. It is best to telephone for an appointment rather than send a letter, fax or email.
3. Punctuality is important. Arrive on time for meetings and expect your Japanese colleagues will do the same.
4. Since this is a group society, even if you think you will be meeting one person, be prepared for a group meeting.
5. The most senior Japanese person will be seated furthest from the door, with the rest of the people in descending rank until the most junior person is seated closest to the door.
6. It may take several meetings for your Japanese counterparts to become comfortable with you and be able to conduct business with you.
1. The Japanese are non-confrontational.
2. They have a difficult time saying ‘no’, so you must be vigilant at observing their non-verbal communication.
3. It is best to phrase questions so that they can answer yes. For example, do you disagree with this? Group decision-making and consensus are important.
4. Written contracts are required.
5. The Japanese often remain silent for long periods of time. Be patient and try to work out if your Japanese colleagues have understood what was said.
6. Japanese prefer broad agreements and mutual understanding so that when problems arise they can be handled flexibly.
7. Using a Japanese lawyer is seen as a gesture of goodwill. Note that Japanese lawyers are quite different from Western lawyers as they are much more functionary.
8. Never lose your temper or raise your voice during negotiations.
9. Some Japanese close their eyes when they want to listen intently.
1. Business attire is conservative.
2. Men should wear dark-colored, conservative business suits.
3. Women should dress conservatively.
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